JESUS CHRIST IS THE ANSWER MINISTRIES, INC.; REV. LUCY WARE, Plaintiffs - Appellants,
BALTIMORE COUNTY, MARYLAND; BOARD OF APPEALS OF BALTIMORE COUNTY, MARYLAND, Defendants - Appellees. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Amicus Supporting Appellants.
from the United States District Court for the District of
Maryland, at Baltimore. Richard D. Bennett, District Judge.
Argued: October 31, 2018
Amended: February 25, 2019
P. Storzer, STORZER & ASSOCIATES, P.C., Washington, D.C.,
Joseph Nolan, Jr., Paul M. Mayhew, BALTIMORE COUNTY OFFICE OF
LAW, Towson, Maryland, for Appellees. John Matthew Gore,
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for
Amicus United States of America.
Sieglinde K. Rath, STORZER & ASSOCIATES, P.C.,
Washington, D.C.; Lawrence E. Schmidt, SMITH GILDEA &
SCHMIDT LLC, Towson, Maryland, for Appellants.
Michael E. Field, County Attorney, R. Brady Locher, Assistant
County Attorney, BALTIMORE COUNTY OFFICE OF LAW, Towson,
Maryland, for Appellees.
R. Calderon, Katherine E. Lamm, Appellate Section, Civil
Rights Division, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE,
Washington, D.C., for Amicus United States of America.
NIEMEYER, AGEE, and DIAZ, Circuit Judges.
Christ Is the Answer Ministries, Inc. (the
"Church") and Reverend Lucy Ware appeal the
dismissal of their claims against Baltimore County and the
Board of Appeals of Baltimore County. The district court
dismissed Plaintiffs' suit for failure to state a claim
under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons
Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et
seq., the Free Exercise Clause, the Equal Protection
Clause, and Article 36 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights.
For the reasons that follow, we vacate and remand for further
Christ is the Answer Ministries, Inc. is a nondenominational
Christian church founded in Baltimore in 1997 by Reverend
Lucy Ware. The Church describes itself as evangelical
and multicultural. It has associated churches in Kenya and
the Seychelles, and many of the Church's congregants were
born in Africa. Reverend Ware was born in Kenya, where she
was active in her family church until moving to the United
Church has struggled to secure an adequate house of worship,
and this has impeded its religious mission. This lawsuit
arises from Ware's unsuccessful efforts to obtain County
approval to operate a church on property that she purchased
for that purpose in 2012 (the "Property").
Property consists of 1.2 acres of land with a building
previously used as a dwelling. It is zoned under the
Baltimore County Zoning Regulations ("BCZR") as
"Density Residential 3.5."
zone, churches are permitted as of right subject to certain
conditions, including that parking lots and structures are
(1) set back 75 feet from tract boundaries, and (2) separated
from adjacent lots by a 50-foot landscaped buffer. BCZR
§§ 1B01.1.A.3, 1B01.1.B.1.e. These conditions,
however, don't apply to new churches whose site plans
have been approved after a public hearing finding that
compliance with the conditions will be maintained "to
the extent possible," and that the plan "can
otherwise be expected to be compatible with the character and
general welfare of the surrounding residential
premises." Id. § 1B01.1.B.1.g. (6).
Ware purchased the Property, her realtor advised her that a
church was a permitted use on the Property.
buying the Property, Ware made improvements to the building
and parking lot and held a church service and cookout.
Neighbors complained to the County, and a County inspector
notified Ware that she couldn't use the Property as a
church unless she complied with applicable zoning
filed a petition with the County to approve use of the
Property as a church. The petition proposed a buffer and
setback of zero feet, seeking complete relief from the zoning
requirements. It also sought variances from parking
requirements. The County Director of the Department of
Planning did not oppose the petition, "provided a
landscape and signage plan is submitted to the department for
review and approval." J.A. 19 ¶ 105. A hearing was
held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ").
Neighbors who opposed the petition attended and participated.
hearing, several neighbors made comments displaying open
hostility to Ware and the Church. These comments included:
(1) "dancing and hollering like they back at their home
back in Africa somewhere"; (2) "[s]he can come over
here from Africa . . . branch out from another church and put
all of this in our neighborhood"; and (3) "[t]hey
were out here dancing like from Africa. We don't have
that in our block." J.A. 19 ¶ 108. Since the
hearing, neighbors have subjected the Church and its members